Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk | Arts Radar and B Sharp

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk | Arts Radar and B SharpLady Macbeth of Mtsensk is the latest work from father-son outfit, Playwrite Robert Couch and Director Joseph Couch. Being showcased for the first time in Australia at the Belvoir Theatre’s ‘Downstairs’ space, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is another engaging work by this very talented pair. Adapted from the novella Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov written in 1865, Couch has interpreted this Russian text with an unfiltered impartiality and given it the conscience absent in Leskov’s version.

Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
is a variation on Shakespeare’s Macbeth theme framed in a different context. This story canvasses the universal issues of oppression, classism and sexism from a Russian, rural, working class perspective pitched against a backdrop of Christian morality.

The two protagonists in which the play is centred are Katerina (Alice Parkinson) and Sergei (Conrad Coleby), a star crossed couple who fall in love through what I believe is a profound connection stemming from their impoverished and underprivileged backgrounds. The lonely housebound and ‘childless’ wife of wealthy merchant Zinovy Ismailov (Jason Langley) connects with peasent farmhand Sergei and shares an urgent and adulterous love affair. Mixed up in this sordid business is the overbearing and controlling father in law Boris Ismailov (Don Reid) and loyal housekeeper Aksinya played by the remarkably humorous Amy Kersey.

The plot twists and turns in a dark, grey cold setting watched over by the Mother Mary in silent vigil. What comes next you may be able to predict if you are familiar with the Macbeth tragedy. The audience is taken on an expidition through the depths of human depravity as a quest for true love unfolds. And in the unfolding process another love interest in the form of 17 year old delinquent Sonia (Edwina Ritchard) comes into being. From this point the drama reaches a climax and becomes a parody of itself bringing a new level of intensity to the story.

Parkinson successfully convinces the audience, through the ability of being able to act with her eyes, of Katerina's madness whilst at the same time retaining her naïve innocence which is a vital component of this fable. Accentuating the complexity of this dispossessed heroine is a multifaceted cast. Reid switches from detestable father-in-law to compassionate Communist Sergeant with the same life force, born from that inimitable voice of his, as his former character. Whilst Jason Langley introduces an element of humour to the macabre proceedings.

Given that the stage at the Downstairs Theatre is quite small, the direction makes clever use of every spare inch of space available to the cast of six. Stage Designer Esther Couch creates a symbiosis between the space and set through a post-war sense of interior decoration enabling Lighting Designer, Verity Hampson, to use illumination as a prop. The two Couch’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk is a poetic impression of the macabre potential that exists within the human psyche. This play has given rise to what I have prophetically coined the “Macbeth Complex”, a concept that will never cease to give creative sustenance to theatre.

Arts Radar in association with B Sharp presents
Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk
by Robert Couch Adapted from the novella by Nikolai Leskov

Director Joseph Couch

Venue: Belvoir St Downstairs Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 4 – 26 July, 2009
Times: Tues 7pm, Wed-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 5.15pm
Tickets: $29/$23 (Preview $20, Cheap Tues Pay-what-you-can, min. $10)
Bookings: 9699 3444 or

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